Senior Advisory Board Member
Virginia Commonwealth University
Dr. Michael Rao was selected to be the president of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 2009. As president of VCU and the VCU Health System, Rao leads a national research university with a leading academic medical center that, with more than 18,600 employees, is the largest employer in the Richmond area and the sixth largest in Virginia. VCU's annual economic impact in the state is estimated at $3.6 billion and more than 43,000 jobs. VCU's community impact, economic and cultural, was particularly evident during the VCU Rams' run to the Final Four in the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, which brought out an unparalleled display of pride from both the VCU community and the greater Richmond area. In his capacity as president of the VCU Health System, Rao heads one of the nation's most comprehensive academic health centers, which is ranked among the best hospitals in the country as well as the No. 1 hospital in the Richmond metro area by U.S. News & World Report.
Virginia Commonwealth University's place as the state's premier urban, public research university has strengthened under the leadership of Rao, who, in challenging times, is piloting strategic efforts focused on academic quality, student success and research that fosters regional economic development and improves lives.
Under Rao's leadership, VCU's place among national research universities continues to rise, with 28 graduate and first-professional programs ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Rao continues to steer infrastructure improvements to bolster priority initiatives.
During his tenure, VCU has been designated in the top research category by the Carnegie Foundation, which, in combination with its community engaged distinction, makes VCU one of only 28 public universities in the country with an academic medical center to achieve this prestigious dual distinction.
Launched by Rao in 2011, the university's strategic plan, Quest for Distinction, sets priorities of academic excellence, research that enhances the quality of life, human health and well-being, and contributing to the economic vitality and cultural richness of the community. Strategic efforts focus on academic quality, student success and research that fosters regional economic development and improves lives.
Rao has been an administrator for 20 years. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rao served in the private sector as a higher education academic program planner. In this role, he created master plans for the University of Washington system and the University of California. He also served as assistant to the president at the University of Florida, a member of the Association of American Universities.
In 1992, Rao became a dean at Mission College in Santa Clara, California and became president of the college two years later. This move gave him the distinction of being the youngest college president in the country at that time. In 1998, he became chancellor of Montana State University - Northern in Havre, Montana.
In 2000 at the age of 34, Rao was chosen to be president of Central Michigan University (CMU), a large, public, research university. CMU is the fourth largest of Michigan's 15 public universities. His work at CMU focused on interdisciplinary academic program development, economic development through commercialization of research, fundraising for the university, and outreach to the central Michigan region. During his tenure and despite state budget cuts, CMU significantly increased faculty positions and research productivity, developed academic programs and improved performance. Under Rao's leadership, CMU gained approval to establish a medical school and M.D. degree program, partnering with large healthcare systems. When he left CMU in 2009, Rao was one of the three longest-serving presidents among Michigan's 15 public universities.
Rao, the son of a physician from Mumbai, India, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of South Florida and his doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Florida.
Some of his academic work involving phenothiazine drugs is published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry. His work continues occasionally with an analytical chemist with whom he examines properties of hyperbranched polymers designed for drug delivery.